Wednesday, October 19, 2005

UK: Flu jab for whole population plan

Flu jab for whole population plan

Plans to purchase enough vaccine to cover every person in the UK in the event of a flu pandemic have been announced by the Department of Health.

Chief Medical Officer Sir Liam Donaldson said 120 million doses would be needed.

But he said it could not be developed until the exact strain of the flu virus causing the pandemic was known.

The ability of EU nations to coordinate their efforts to tackle a pandemic is to be tested in a simulation exercise.

On Wednesday an outbreak of the bird flu virus was reported in poultry in the Russian province of Tula, to the south of Moscow.

China revealed that 2,600 birds have died from the disease in Inner Mongolia.

And Romania has confirmed birds infected a second outbreak in the country did have the deadly H5N1 strain of the virus.


Sir Liam Donaldson on Wednesday published updated guidance on how to prepare for a possible pandemic.

The government is inviting manufacturers to tender for a contract to supply the pandemic flu vaccine.

And thousands of information packs are to be sent to GPs.

25% of the population - 15 million people - may suffer from flu during a pandemic
Out of a population of 100,000 people, local health care organisations should expect to see at least 1,000 new flu patients a week
This figure could rise to 5,000 a week at the virus's peak
Around 25% of the working population may need to take sick leave of between five and eight working days
Source: Department of Health

Sir Liam said: "We cannot prevent a flu pandemic, but we can reduce its impact.

"One of the most effective counter-measures we can take against a flu pandemic is to make sure we develop and manufacture a vaccine as quickly as possible.

"We will use this vaccine to immunise the UK population and reduce the impact of a pandemic on society."

Two doses

Sir Liam said each person in the country would need two doses of vaccine if a mutated form of bird flu affecting humans hit the UK.

However, he admitted that manufacturing the vaccine could take some time - experts have predicted it could take months.

It is thought that there is no direct threat to the public from current outbreaks in other countries.

Sir Liam has predicted that the epicentre of any new strain is likely to be in East Asia, and that a major outbreak is unlikely in the UK this year.

But he has also warned that 50,000 lives could be lost in the event of bird flu taking hold in the UK.

The UK Influenza Pandemic Contingency Plan includes quarantine measures, stockpiling of anti-viral drugs and research into a vaccine as well as arrangements for the emergency services.

Concerts and football matches could both be banned and travel restricted in the event of an outbreak to stop the virus spreading.

The UK has so far stockpiled 2.5 million doses of anti-viral drugs - and may restrict travel if there is an outbreak.

On Monday, Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt told MPs she was confident enough was being done.

European exercise

The European simulation exercise will involve officials in command centres across Europe reacting to imaginary scenarios.

The exercise, called Common Ground, requested by the European Commission, will not involve any "real world" mobilisation of emergency services and healthcare staff. It will be command centre and desk-based.

Other European countries are stepping up measures to prevent the spread of bird flu, following the discovery in Turkey and Romania of the H5N1 strain which is dangerous to humans.

The European Commission has banned bird and poultry imports from the countries.

H5N1 has killed more than 60 people in South-East Asia since 2003.

On Monday, Greece became the first EU member to confirm a case of bird flu.

It is not yet known if the Greek case is H5N1.

Story from BBC NEWS: